Yep it’s good. When we’re in prison, there’s not much you can do, but this program lets the world see what you’re doing, so that we’re not forgotten. It passes the time, keeps me connected to our culture, and the way to stay connected is through our art and the stories behind them.
Robby Wirramanda, Wergaia/Wotjobaluk 2016
The program supports the development of self-esteem, confidence and resilience, through cultural strengthening and artistic expression. The Torch assists artists to reconnect with culture, earn income from art sales (with 100% of the artwork price going directly to the artist), foster new networks and to pursue educational and creative industry avenues upon their release.
By embracing program participants as artists rather than offenders, The Torch provides an avenue to change.
Indigenous Australians make up less than 3% of the Australian adult population but represent over 30% of the national adult prison population.
Indigenous men are 15 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous men and Indigenous women are 21 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous women.
The Torch has been delivering the Statewide Indigenous Arts in Prison and Community program (SIAPC) since 2011. The SIAPC program is set within the context of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement and its focus is on the role of culture and cultural identity in the rehabilitative process of Indigenous prisoners.
The Torch employs Indigenous Arts Officers to deliver the program to Indigenous men and women in Victorian prisons and to support participants who are transitioning back into the community.
In 2012 and 2018 The Torch commissioned an Evaluation of the Statewide Indigenous Arts Officer in Prisons and Community program. The 2018 Evaluation is also available in summary format. Interviews with Indigenous prisoners and former prisoners participating in the program identified four key challenges faced by program participants:
- systemic trust and anger issues
- experiences of disconnection from their cultural identity
- estrangement from family and community
- economic insecurity after being released from prison
Those interviewed saw that The Torch program had been effective in responding to these challenges by engendering:
- an increased sense of well-being and confidence
- new levels of trust that many of the artists had not experienced before
- opportunities for cultural reconnection
- pre-release skills and exploration of post-release career opportunities
- improved participation in other prison programs
- increased awareness of arts and culture among prison staff and the wider community
- a new level of support with its inside/outside approach
- better relationships with family and the wider community
Of those who were interviewed through the evaluation, every respondent, without exception, expressed the complementary value of the program, and the need for the Statewide Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program to be expanded, in order to meet strong demand. They wanted more contact, more information, more resources and more materials.
In 2020 The Torch worked with 299 offenders in prisons across Victoria and 189 ex-offenders in the community.
In 2019 The Torch’s flagship exhibition Confined showcased 227 artworks from 213 artists at the Carlisle Street Art Space, St. Kilda Town Hall. Confined 11 in 2020 increased to 300 artworks from 286 artists and was held entirely online for the first time due to COVID-19.